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What’s Up With All These Tiny Balls on My Sweater?

And no, they’re not testicles

One of the most recognizable signs that you’ve reached the beginning of the end of your sweater’s life is when you start to notice tiny balls appearing on its surface. They’re subtle at first — one or two on the shoulder. But then a few more pop up on the chest. And before you know it, they’re everywhere

Such balls — or pills of fabric — typically form when short fibers of material become loose, get tangled and form tiny spheres of yarn. The worst part is, they’re totally unavoidable since they’re basically a sign that you’re a human who moves and/or washes your clothes — i.e., they’re caused by rubbing or abrasion during normal wear and tear. And so, no matter how much money you spend on high-quality fabrics or how well you take care of your clothes, pills will inevitably arise. 

Of course, some fabrics fair better than others. Those made of long fibers like silk and linen pill less than wool, cotton, polyester and other synthetic threads. The worst of the bunch are fabrics that are mixed, which make up a majority of today’s clothes. That’s because the weaker fiber (typically cotton) is likely to break first and knot around the stronger fiber. 

There are ways, however, to mitigate pilling. For starters, always use the gentle cycle with fabrics prone to it. “The slower agitation and shorter wash cycle will protect your clothes,” per The Spruce. “Or choose hand-washing, which is even more gentle.” Additionally, you should turn the garment inside-out, as it prevents excess abrasion to the outer surface. 

If it’s already too late for preventative measures, you’re gonna want to triage the situation by slicing away the pills. “Just grab a sweater shaver and gently scrape them off every once in a while,” one redditor tells me. This does mean that you’re slowly removing fabric from your clothes, but it’s a worthy sacrifice to elongate their lifespan. 

A Sweater Stone is another effective tool. “The stone actually removes a fine layer of the looser threads on the surface of the garment, which prevents future piling,” explains a subscriber of the Male Fashion Advice subreddit. “You’ll be surprised at how much material comes off, but it’s normal. Just don’t push really hard because it will keep shaving off bits of thread forever if you keep rubbing it.”

Finally, it might seem as though fire would do the trick as well. But according to a redditor who attempted to set his pills ablaze, it’s mostly a recipe for disaster. “[I] almost burned a hole in a T-shirt the other day trying to burn the ‘balls’ off,” he warned.

Besides, you’re trying to save your sweater’s life, not looking to light up a funeral pyre in its honor.